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Do we still feel like we belong?

Our local cricket club in south west London took part in the annual Cricket Force Day yesterday. In strangely benign weather, all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds painted, sanded, planted, cleaned, scrubbed, stained and generally tidied up the club. They didn’t necessarily paint the right things, nor necessarily in the right order and not necessarily with any noteworthy degree of competence, but do they certainly did.

And I mean everyone. Children, parents, women, men and most of the colours under the sun. (Although admittedly, three hours of painting sightscreens meant that most people walked away a little whiter than they’d walked in).

And why did they give up their hard-earned Sundays, particularly for nothing more than a thank you and a bacon roll? Because they feel part of something, something they belong to. The game, certainly, but perhaps more important, a community, a belief, a set of behaviours.

It was all rather lovely.

The same sense of belonging and the discretionary effort it inspires is just as important within the context of work. We want to feel as though we share more than a simple source of income with the people around us. The more enlightened organisations will develop a value set which creates consistent, cohesive behaviours which, in turn, shape cultures, dialogue and workplace interventions.

Nowhere is this more telling now that M&A activity (long depressed by the global recession) is a growing presence – with organisations such as Argos and Sainsburys, London Stock Exchange and the Deutsche Borse and Homebase and Bunnings, once competitors, now all snuggling up corporately close.

With levels of organisational productivity still puzzlingly disappointing, organisations are increasingly tempted to pull off game-changing initiatives such as these. Perhaps the downturn-related hiatus means that few recall the KPMG research suggesting that ‘80% of mergers fail to create value and 50% actively destroy it, with the prime cause a failure to merge cultures’.

It can be hard to feel that sense of belonging to an organisation with, post merger, a different name, reporting structure, different managers, logo and value set to the one you joined. The result, according to KPMG? Talented people make the decision to belong elsewhere with the disenchanted and the disengaged staying and contributing to the destruction of organisational value.

Let’s extrapolate the construct of belonging. How might a potential Brexit impact on such sentiment? What might this do to the sense of belonging?

There are any number of stakeholders – both for and against– making coherent cases both why the country would be better off outside the EU and why it should remain. Such cases are being made with increasing passion and volume as the referendum becomes more and more real.

A recent survey from the CBI suggests that 80% of its members want to stay part of the EU, with just 5% wishing to leave. A survey from PWC indicates that Brexit would cost the country £100bn and 1m jobs. Other similar surveys however suggest the impact will be far less marked. Those wishing to leave make some strong points around borders, terrorism, democracy and immigration. The OECD, however, take a more international stance – ‘Brexit would be bad for the UK, bad for Europe and bad for the global economy’.

Fascinatingly, some 400 footballers in the top two divisions in England and Scotland would lose, as of today’s legislation, the right to play and work in the UK. We might see this in positive terms – young home grown talent perhaps being given more of a shot – or football audiences may be less impressed by the standards of the resulting football on offer. Interestingly, two talents who have lit up the Premier League this season, N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet would not have been allowed to ply their trade in England under the current rules.

Will employment within a relatively self governing country feel any different to working life within the EU? Will we look on our employers in the same way? If we’ve signed up to work, think and act internationally –will life outside feel the same?

In many ways, little of day-to-day practical relevance will change. But what about the more philosophical? For those organisations attempting to reach out to suppliers, networks, clients and prospects across the EU, post a vote for Brexit, will those efforts face a less welcoming reception?

There is an interesting position too around diversity. Will UK organisations, should the country vote for leaving the EU, be able to claim with plausible merit that they are as inclusive and open to all applications if the door has now closed for some candidates?

Whatever economic wobbles we are currently experiencing –some of which have their origins in the uncertainty of the referendum vote –the latest REC/KPMG Report on Jobs suggests that 79% of employers feel that economic conditions are improving and that 81% are planning to hire more permanent staff in the next quarter. Perhaps more alarmingly, 95% are operating with no or little capacity to take on further work.

Talent remains of huge importance to organisations wishing to grow. And recruiting in the current competitive market with far less recourse to candidate audiences such as the EU – is there a sense that this risks disadvantaging UK organisations? As the ONS figures point out, of the half million or so jobs the domestic economy has created in the last 12 months, more than 200,000 have been filled by candidates originating from outside the UK but within the EU.

It is up to us all to make a personal decision as to whether we feel we belong within or without the EU. And the factor of age may be a huge influence on the vote. An Opinium poll this weekend suggested that 53% of voters aged between 18 and 34 were in favour of staying, with just 29% wanting to leave the EU.

And this is an age group closely representative of the talent pools many organisations will want to forge links with. Given, according to the Times over the weekend, that many banks are quietly making plans to move operations from London to Paris and Frankfurt in the advent of Brexit, we need to make sure the best of young UK talent, with choice and options, doesn’t make a similar decision.

From Thursday 23rd June, it will be fascinating to understand whether UK employees continue to have the same sense of belonging, unity and shared purpose that the best organisations are able to create.

Neil Harrison | Head of Employer Branding |

Posted Monday 04 April 2016
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